I got to talking to people at breakfast and ended up being one of the very last people to leave the hostel. The volunteers in charge were trying very hard to get us all out of there by 8 am so I finished my jam and toast (the typical Camino breakfast) and headed out the door. We were all a bit apprehensive of the day because it included climbing up to the Cruz de Ferro--in 15 kilometers you ascend 500 meters. We started the climb the day before, but on day 21 I reached the highest point on the entire Camino.
The day started out with a beautiful sunrise. As I stopped to take this picture another young pilgrim caught up with me.
My new pilgrim buddy Victoria--half German, half British--swinging on the swing right off the side of the trail. Victoria had a much tighter schedule than I did and had to cover a lot more ground in the next few days than I was planning to. When we started walking that morning we had no idea we would end up walking together for the good part of the week. We climbed our way up the mountain laughing as we realized we had met some of the same "characters" along the way. All I had to say was that I met an "extreme sports journalist" for her to launch into a laugh. I then understood why she had walked some 40 km + days to get away from people!
We made it to the Cruz de Ferro! And no, this is not just a big pile of rocks. Well, on one hand it is a giant pile of rocks, but they are not just rocks. Traditionally (or so I was informed--it was yet another one of those things I was clueless about), pilgrims would carry rocks from their home all the way here. Depending on who you listen to they represented their sins (and therefore were sometimes large stones!) or represented something that the pilgrims wished to leave behind.
Like I said...I got this info too late to bring a rock from Texas, but I did pick one up that morning in Rabanal. I took the time to think about it and give it some meaning, so I figure that counts.
We met Denise, the lovely Tasmanian, as we arrived at the Cruz and she told us to just go up and have a look around--that whether we had stones or not, taking in all the stones and mementos honored those who had left them before us.
The variety of stones and objects, along with the different languages, made it fascinating.
I also spotted my friend Juanma's rock, which was fun.
Like a good pilgrim he brought his rock all the way from his home in Seville.
I took my stone in my hand, shoved it into a crevice in the Cruz, and left some weight behind.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the Cruz, a couple of new pilgrims arrived. A Belgian lady was waving at us in all kinds of crazy sign language. I thought she wanted Victoria and me to get in front of the Cruz to pose for a picture. That was until she asked if we lived up there?! and it became apparent that she in fact wanted us to hide behind the pole so we wouldn't be in her picture.
Which I of course thought was hilarious.
So Victoria took a picture. : )
A shot of me in front of the Cruz. It's crazy to think that this giant mound was built by tiny stones carried by pilgrims. And actually, I mean that literally--I heard (and believed) that the city brought most of the large stones.
From here on into Galicia the landscapes started to take on an incredibly beautiful quality.
We stopped in at the "hostel" in Manjarin to take in some of the craziness. There's no electricity or running water at this albergue (only a porta-potty!) and it is run by a Knight Templar. He has this bell he rings and the whole place is full of Knights Templar paraphernalia.
At this point of the Camino we were getting into the thick of "Knights Templar Country." Unfortunately I had no idea that Knights Templar was code for nut job. The gist of the place is that this particular guy, the founder of the hostel, went on a pilgrimage of sorts to the Knights Templar castle in Ponferrada where he had a vision directing him to come start a pilgrim hostel here. He hasn't been home since.
The crazy Belgian lady who yelled a us to get behind the Cruz de Ferro also stopped us along the path to make sure we a) didn't step on the caterpillars and to b) looked at the baby cows.
The landscape reminded me a lot of Scotland, especially with the purple, heather-like flowers. I later realized that everything was looking extra-purple to me because my cheap sunglasses were slightly pink tinted (yes, I really was looking at the world through rose tinted glasses).
Ah, it was beautiful. So beautiful that I felt the need to say so every 5 minutes. I have no idea how Victoria walked with me for so many days! : )
Bag mas! We found Karl and Linda (the Bavarian couple from the day before) relaxing on the side of the mountain. They had started walking the Via de la Plata (the Camino which begins in Seville and makes it's way northward toward Santiago), but found it lacking the special something that the Camino Frances had. So they switched! I was glad they did.
I mean, come on! Doesn't it make you want to say, it's so beautiful!, every five minutes too?
Victoria taking a break to watch...
...the horses passing! Now, horseback (along with bicycle ridding) is a recognized way to do the Camino. Obviously back in the day doing the Camino on horseback was a lot more typical, but now, there are still some people who do at least stretches of the Camino on horseback. It was pretty obvious as this group (maybe 15 people or so?) came through that they were just doing it as a kind of packaged tourism. It was fun to watch them go by...but we definitely grumbled about it. Domingueros!
The reason we were grumbly was that the way down into town was STEEP and rocky. After climbing all day, and on tired legs, getting into town was a bit treacherous.
And then our hostel. Oh, our hostel. There were a couple of hostels to choose from in town, so we picked the one with a kitchen and internet. When we were registering the hospitalero (volunteer running the hostel) started asking a ton of questions and making jokes. I really just wanted to dump off my stuff and get to a restaurant before they shut down the kitchens for the siesta. I was translating for Victoria and he kept making lots of stupid puns about her name. He then had to point out pictures of himself on the wall wearing full on Knights Templar gear. Dude, we don't care. Two giant Templar stamps in our pilgrim passports later we were finally freed to go on our way. Of course not before Miguel gave us his push to hand over our voluntary donations. I didn't have change so I told him I'd get change at lunch and donate in the morning. He tried to guilt us, but I wasn't biting--I had a standard donation I left, but if a hostel was better or worse I would adjust my donation: i.e.. no hot water = less, free breakfast = more. I liked to leave my donation in the morning. Miguel, clearly enjoying being the king of his personal Templar kingdom, was not happy, but I didn't really care. I'd give him money.
Anyway, finally I had lunch at one of the bars in town, but because Victoria was recovering from being sick she just accompanied me without eating (it helped that they were showing clips from the royal wedding on the TV!). We stopped and picked up some expensive groceries (there was only a tiny shop in town), me a couple of eggs for dinner, and some plain spaghetti noodles for Victoria for lunch. When we got back to the albergue she started to cook. Things were in random places so she had me ask Miguel, the hospitalero, for a pan to boil the water in.
Well. Miguel was not happy about that. Apparently when Miguel was working the hostel the kitchen was only to be used to cook a communal supper. Um, communal supper? You never mentioned that Miguel. You could also tell from the signs posted in the kitchen (clean up after yourselves, don't leave unused food in the fridge, etc.) that the kitchen was clearly for pilgrim use. At least normally.
I tried to explain that Victoria just wanted to cook some plain noodles, that she still wasn't feeling well. Finally, after making a huge scene, he gave her a pan. All she had to do was ask. Yeah, ok, whatever Miguel.
Then another couple of pilgrims wanted to cook something. And I got stuck trying to convey that to him. Then a rude French couple got thrown into the mix. Before I knew I was having to explain to him that no, none of us were going to be eating his communal supper, and again, before I knew it, Miguel was all up in my face giving me a mouthful. Hey Miguel, I'm just the messenger here! Well this was Spain after all, so when he started wagging his finger in my face I decided to be confrontational right back. Until I finally decided, I'M LEAVING! His response was basically: There's the door--you didn't even give a donation anyway!
I climbed the stairs to get my bag, shaking I was so angry, ready to just head to the other hostel in town. My pilgrim friends talked me into just staying--and I figured maybe that was the best way to not let Ol' Miguel win. I went out, had coffee with my Sevillan friends (who were staying at the other hostel!) who got a kick out of the matter. Everyone told me not to leave a donation--that it would teach him. But I wasn't satisfied with that. I figured leaving a tiny amount was more insulting than leaving nothing at all. And by tiny, I meant that the 2 cent coin I had wasn't small enough. I borrowed a one cent coin off of my good friend Juanma and put it in a safe place for the morning. When I had killed enough time, I went back and went straight to bed.
It was the most upset I had been in a long time, but in it I learned a valuable lesson--Never trust a Knight Templar.
Also, this is Miguel's number. I'll dole out friend points in the hundreds to anyone who calls and annoys him. : )